The nonprofit group organizes volunteer labor and supplies to help troubled farmers stay in business.
BISMARCK, N.D. - A unique farm aid organization started in North Dakota six years ago by a pilot has grown steadily from its humble beginnings and very little money and is now expanding into its fifth state.
Farm Rescue this fall will begin harvesting crops for injured, ill or disaster-stricken farmers in Iowa. The Jamestown-based organization already helps troubled farmers in North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana and Minnesota.
Bill Gross, who now flies for UPS out of Anchorage, Alaska, started Farm Rescue in 2006 with three volunteers.
"Forty or 50 years ago it used to be that neighbors could do all of the work if something happened [to a farmer]," he said. "Now ... Just one injury or illness could be the end of a family farm."
Farm Rescue is a nonprofit with a board of directors, five paid staff members and an annual operating budget of $350,000. It has nearly 250 business sponsors, including Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and a Fargo-based equipment manufacturer, and has a national network of volunteer laborers.
"We have a database of nearly 1,000 volunteers," Gross said. "For the harvest this fall [in North Dakota] we have people coming from Pennsylvania, Arizona, Washington, Oregon." Donations also come from around the country.
The group aims to offer help to family farms where the operators have experienced a hardship beyond their control, not to farms that have been mismanaged or to corporate farms.
"We have come a long ways from April 11, 2006, when we helped our first farmer," a North Dakota producer who had lost his right hand in a farming accident, Gross said.
The group will help its 200th farmer sometime this fall. Gross says it likely will be a couple of years before another state is added. Businesses in Kansas and Nebraska have expressed a willingness to support the nonprofit, but Gross said the focus currently is on Iowa.